By Dan Pool, Editor
I had a surprising conversation earlier this year with a woman who said she wanted to comment on some political issues but was afraid to. She held liberal views and was scared that if she aired her opinions in our letters to the editor, she might face real physical persecution.
More surprising to me: this was the second conversation like this I’ve had in the past couple of months. The first was with a senior citizen who wanted to join the chorus calling for increased tax exemptions for seniors. The senior worried that if she publicly expressed her support, the good ol boys/powers that be, might retaliate against her or her property.
I cautiously told both that while I couldn’t guarantee their safety, I strongly doubted anyone would be so enraged by a contrary opinion they would seek the writers out for acts of intimidation or violence.
American history certainly is filled with cases of assault over political issues, a few duels and some heinous murders. But, to my knowledge, we’ve never had any crimes committed against anyone for expressing their views in the Progress.
We have had plenty of spirited debates. I remember one offer in print to take up a collection so a public gadfly could relocate but it was written in jest – I assume. The person never relocated and I don’t think the proverbial hat was ever passed.
To find out whether it was likely someone might face peril over being outspoken, I went to the provocateur supreme, Andy Kippenhan. As Progress readers know, Kippenhan occasionally pens tracts supporting abortion rights, takes church leaders to task as well as extolling climate change efforts. Clearly his views run counter to many in the community and his writing style is fiery.
Andy said he has been told a few times that “he is brave” for so defiantly bucking the mainstream and he has had people express general concern for his safety. But he has never been subject to any intimidation or face-to-face threats over his writings.
As far the Progress itself, we’ve had some pretty mad people call and, rarely, come by. We’ve also had a few people commend us for being brave in publishing something. Usually the belief is that the good ol boys might be out to get us. I, frankly, have never seen evidence of a cabal of rednecks seeking to carry out nefarious deeds for political gain.
We’ve had a few encounters with the commission chair and Jasper mayor where they expressed their displeasure with our coverage (mostly unwarranted in our opinion). But the idea that we might face more than red-faced discussions with Rob Jones, John Weaver or council member Sonny Proctor seems farfetched.
In November of last year, a t-shirt began appearing at some political events with the phrase “Tree, Rope, Journalist, Some assembly required.” Could you imagine if you substituted policeman, teacher, preacher for journalist what the reaction would be? On the national level there is cause for concern.
The times are changing and with scenes like Charlottesville, VA and the ability to enflame passions on social media, perhaps the time will come when we in Pickens County have to worry about violence here. We hope not.
We hope that even if you find ours or someone else’s opinion presented in these pages offensive, you’ll keep the debate respectful or at least not-violent. (We love letters to the editors with strong and well-presented local voices. Remember our 400 words max. length.)
I hate it that (at least) two people have been silenced from the public dialogue over fears of violent reprisals. I tenuously feel their concerns unwarranted. I want to believe that in this county everyone is free to speak their mind without worrying about slashed tires or busted windows.
Despite what is seen in Washington, and big cities and other places, let’s rise above that here with open dialogue and respect for dissenting views.